FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Why Iran, U.S. aren’t on quite the same side in fight against Islamic State

Iraqi women walk past a poster depicting images of Shi'ite Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at al-Firdous Square in Baghdad

It might seem counter-intuitive to think that attacking the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, would damage Iran or Shi’ite interests in the Middle East. After all, Iran shares the West’s concerns about the radical Sunni group and is in a tacit alliance with the United States when it comes to defeating their common enemy. And yet, Iran fears it might end up being the loser in this battle.

The 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq opened a new political vista in favor of Iran — and Shi’ism — by replacing Sunni leaders, like Saddam Hussein, with Shi’ite politicians previously in exile in Iran, like Nouri al-Maliki.

This shift in the balance of power between Shi’ites and Sunnis led to the emergence of a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East with a majority Shi’ite population under Tehran’s sphere of influence.

Since Islamic State first emerged, The Islamic Republic of Iran believed the group was engineered by Arab states of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On these grounds, it took it upon itself to fight against the extremist militants. When Islamic State occupied the province of Mosul, Iran wholeheartedly cooperated with the Iraqi Kurds as well as the Iraqi forces to contain further advancement of the Islamic State.

There is mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in turn, provided financial and military support to the opponents of the Assad regime. To achieve this aim, they did not hesitate to engage the most fundamentalist of Islamist groups, such as Al Qaeda’s affiliates Al Nusra and Islamic State.

from The Great Debate:

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations -- with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view -- and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Iran-born writer “kills” ayatollah in novel

A general view of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's shrine with pictures of him and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran

GIJON, Spain – Nairi Nahapetian gets her own back on the Iranian regime which forced her into exile by writing a novel about the murder of a powerful religious leader.

Nahapetian returned to Iran as a journalist in 2005 but says that she had to turn to fiction to fully describe the complexities of the homeland she fled when she was nine.

from Photographers' Blog:

Signs of hope through music in Iran

For some people, here is the end of the world, but for some who live here, it is paradise.

The Kahrizak Charity Foundation in southern Tehran, is home to hundreds of mentally and physically impaired people who range in age from young and old. In this place, you can feel life and death, joy and woe, and people who love each other. For these people music is the only positive thing.

The first time I went to Kahrizak, I expected to meet people who didn’t know what they wanted in their life and were just waiting for the angel of death to arrive but it was not as I had presumed.

Music therapists shake off Islamic clerics’ taboo to heal disabled Iranians

(Two disabled students sing a song during a music therapy session at the Kahrizak nursing home, in southern Tehran June 25, 2011/Morteza Nikoubazl)

As Sadeq Jafari switched on his electric piano, his students shunted their wheelchairs enthusiastically around him to rehearse new songs. Music therapy, a common practice in large parts of the world, is extremely rare in Iran, where conservative clerics outlawed pop music after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Jafari, 33, is one of a handful of therapists in the Islamic state who use music to help severely disabled people find their voices, risking the ire of his conservative family and censure from religious authorities.

Kahrizak Charity Foundation, in a leafy campus on the outskirts of the capital Tehran, is home to hundreds of physically handicapped people, young and old, who lack financial support. Each Monday, dozens wait impatiently for Jafari to walk through the door.

Did Bahrain’s Shi’ite opposition squander its democracy chance?

(Thousands of protesters gather at Pearl Roundabout in the heart of the Bahraini capital Manama February 15, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

As martial law comes to an end in the Gulf Arab state of Bahrain this week, opposition activists are wondering whether they threw away what might have been the first real chance for democracy in the Gulf Arab region.

Shortly after young Bahrainis, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, converged on a roundabout in early February, the government offered dialogue with opposition parties on political reforms. But the talks failed to get off the ground. After weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions during which sectarian tension worsened between the Shi’ite majority and Sunnis who saw the ruling Al-Khalifa family as protection, Saudi troops poured in on March 15, martial law was declared the next day and the roundabout encampment was broken up on March 16.

Bahrain Shi’ite leader backs the royal family, rejects alleged Iran links

(Head of Al Wafaq Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, speaks during an anti-government protest at Bahrian's Foreign Ministry in Manama March 4, 2011/James Lawler Duggan)

The leader of Bahrain’s main Shi’ite opposition party said on Sunday his goal was to help bring political reform, rejecting accusations of taking orders from Iran or seeking to install Shi’ite religious rule. Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the opposition group Wefaq, said his party supported the Al Khalifa family as rulers and wanted to help the government with constitutional reforms.

“We said we want a constitutional monarchy, not a republic. We are for a gradual move to a democratic system, so we are not against the ruling family,” Salman told Reuters in an interview. “We have national demands that have nothing to do with Iran. We are proud of being a sensible, mature and progressive political movement that doesn’t need to take instructions from Iran or any other country.”

Iran postpones blinding man in retribution punishment

(Ameneh Bahrami, who was blinded in both eyes in an acid attack, sits at her home in Tehran December 10, 2008/Stringer)

Iran has postponed blinding a convicted man in retribution for throwing acid in the face of a woman in 2004, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday.

A court sentenced Majid Mohavedi in 2008 to be blinded in both eyes for taking away the sight of Ameneh Bahrami by pouring acid in her face after she spurned his offers of marriage.

Iran to make university courses more Islamic

(In the mosque at a Tehran university, July 29, 2007/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Iran plans sweeping changes to university courses to make them more compatible with Islam, the official IRNA news agency reported on Friday. Deputy Minister of Science for Research and Technology Mohammad Mehdi Nejad Nouri, quoted by IRNA, said at least 36 courses would be changed by September after revision by a group of university and seminary experts.

The report did not name the subjects that would be changed, but officials said last year Iran would review 12 disciplines in the social sciences, including law, women’s studies, human rights, management, sociology, philosophy, psychology and political sciences, as their contents were too closely based on Western culture. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for modification of these studies in August, saying that many humanities subjects are based on principles founded in materialism rather than divine Islamic teachings.

The Islamic Republic’s hardline rulers accuse the West of engaging in a “soft war”, trying to influence the country’s young generation with non-Islamic ideas. Access to the Internet and illegal satellite television mean Western culture is popular among young Iranians, a vital constituency in a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30 and has no real memory of the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. Around 50 percent of Iranian university students read humanities.

Frictions seen easing in troubled U.N. human rights body

(Delegates observe a one-minute silence during the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(Delegates at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.

U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe said emerging accords on tackling religious hatred, Iran’s rights record and unusual cooperation across mutually suspicious regional blocs on Libya could mark a turning point for the forum.